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Benedetta Doro speaks to a working mother in tech about the discrimination she has experienced and what needs to change to bridge the gender gap.
Despite the efforts made to create a more inclusive and diverse industry, tech is still a field in which discrimination persists on a variety of different levels.
A recent study from the University of Gothenburg found that the majority of positions in tech are held by men younger than 35. The study shows that “older people, over the age of 35, are expected to be less interested in technology and more interested in management” and that “they are expected have more difficulty processing information and picking up new things”.
The gap is even bigger between the genders, with women making up just 15% of the tech industry, and they constitute only 10% of leadership roles in the UK, according to the Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2021.
Covid-19, lockdowns and job insecurities have worsened the situation. “Right now a lot of women feel vulnerable, they have lost jobs because of the greater share of the childcare they have provided over the pandemic,” says Mary, who is part of the minority of women in tech.
The problem is reflected amongst younger females too. Indeed, 60% of female STEM students have had their future career prospects affected by the pandemic, a recent whitepaper published by STEM Women found.
The obstacles to Mary’s career in tech started early on. Despite landing two job offers right after graduating in electronic engineering, she soon realised that she would not have the same opportunities handed to her as her male colleagues.
Indeed, she says she was excluded from training courses offered by the company she was working for and from any opportunity to get promoted. In order to have a chance to compete, she decided to do a postgraduate management course.
Afterwards, she did get a new job, but in the midst of it all, Mary had two children which halted her career progression once again. She says: “So I thought, the women I know who’ve got doctorates in engineering are not treated as badly because the men know that these women are much more highly qualified than they and the companies need their expertise.”
This thought led Mary to go back to university for a PhD. Unfortunately, Mary never finished her PhD due to unexpected medical reasons. However, she is still keeping up with the industry developments, attending events and online courses.
If being a female worker in a male-dominated field was not challenging enough, becoming a mother added some significant extra hurdles to Mary’s career.
After her postgraduate degree, she moved into a new role which was “more commercial, but still very much a technical role”. Despite enjoying the company she was working for, it was not very understanding when it came to issues like maternity leave or having childcare responsibilities.
Her job involved a lot of travelling to meet suppliers and customers and working long shifts and her employee and colleagues did not take the news of her being pregnant well.
After giving birth to her son, she was told she had to come back after 12 weeks otherwise she would get fired. So, she went back to work despite the conditions not being ideal for a new mother, expressing milk in the first-aid room during her lunch break,and because there was not a nursery available, or any other form of childcare, Mary had to get a private nanny during her working hours.
“That meant I had to leave on time, and everybody’s attitude was, ‘oh my goodness you are leaving at 20 past five, you’re a part timer’,” recalls Mary. She adds: “The bullying that I received for not staying till eight o’clock at night was horrendous, just unbelievable.”
This made her feel like she was never good enough, or at least not as good as her male colleagues, as well as that she was not going to be considered for any promotion opportunity.
Breaking away from stereotypes associated with women not understanding technologies as well as with mothers not being able to fully commit to both responsibilities would be first step towards inclusion, according to Mary.
However, whilst training staff to recognise bias and raising awareness around discrimination may help, concrete changes need to be made too.
One of them would be providing the same opportunities to both genders and allowing the number of women in leadership positions to grow. By doing so, there would be a higher chance of having female mentors and sponsors who would help, creating a domino effect to attract more women.
Having women in higher positions would also mean having a female perspective in policy-making decisions regarding issues like pregnancy, parental leave, menopause or miscarriages. However, inclusion and diversity in tech is not just about gender discrimination and it is important to move away from the current stereotypes dominating the industry so everyone can work together towards a better and healthier work attitude.
“I feel that we must support each other and say what we believe needs to change. If the problems that apply to women were fixed – flexible hours, online education, returner programmes…then these same activities could benefit males too,” says Mary.
Then, she adds: “Discrimination is a blight on the tech industry […] I have been made to feel that I am not treated as an equal in the field I love.”
*Mary is not her real name.